By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has its origin in God. Jesus who is God was the first Marian devotee and will be the last Marian devotee in divine and human histories. He is the first Marian devotee because He was Mary’s child in the flesh, and it was His word that was delivered to Mary by the Angel Gabriel in what we know today as the Angelic salutation (see Luke 1:26). He equally becomes the last Marian devotee because all devotions to Mary lead us back to Him. For Mary is only but a means of reaching Jesus who is the End, just like the same Mary becomes the means Jesus came down to save us by taking flesh from her to dwell among us (see John 1:14). In this way, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled on the coming of the Redeemer through the means of a virgin’s womb (see Ịsa. 7:14).
Therefore, there is nothing heretical to say that God Himself honoured Mary and wishes us to honour Her. This is what devotion to Mary is, and the reason we must honour Mary is because God honoured her first by choosing her as His own Mother. Consequently, it implies that Jesus who is God cooperated with the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit in honouring her. The Eternal Father honoured her as His Daughter by choosing her to give birth to His Son. Jesus the Son honoured her as His Mother by requesting that she gives Him flesh. The Holy Spirit honoured her by forming Jesus in her womb by His power. This is why in the hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus” (Come O Holy Spirit) composed by Blessed Rabanus Maurus, the Holy Spirit is venerated as “finger of the Right Hand of the Father” because He wrought the mystery of the Incarnation in Mary’s womb. If God was devoted to His own Mother, then we have to imitate what He has done.
What True Devotion is.
The expression ‘True Devotion to Mary’ already makes it clear that it is a demarcation from another form of devotion to Mary. And this other form of Marian devotion is false devotion to Mary. St Louis Marie de Montfort in his book, “True Devotion to Mary” (TD) identifies seven false devotions and devotees such as: 1. the critical devotees; 2. the scrupulous devotees; 3. the external devotees; 4. the presumptuous devotees; 5. the inconstant devotees: 6. hypocritical devotees; 7. interested devotees (see TD, nos 92-104). He afterwards identifies and explains the five marks of true devotion and devotees. They are: interior, trustful, holy, constant and disinterested (see TD 105-110).
What this means is that all false devotions are contradiction to true devotions. One is wrong, the other is right. One is to be avoided because it is bad, the other is to be cherished because it is good. One is to be shun because it has no merits, the other is to be encouraged because it has merits and graces accompanying to it. False devotions, therefore, must be prohibited because they are displeasing to Mary and invariably to God, unlike true devotions which must be encouraged because they are pleasing to Mary and to God.
Marian Devotion in the Teaching of Saints
The Church which is the house of God is blessed with Saints who encourage us on the way to salvation. Many of these saints are known for their Marian devotions which are all True Devotions. Several of them have spoken of Mary in ways that inspire one’s soul. Some of them are as follows:
- According to St Eucharius: “To comprehend the Mother, comprehend the Son. Mary is the Mother of God. Before this mystery, let every tongue be mute”.
- St Ildephonsus of Toledo opines that: “As God summed all waters and called them “Mare” (Latin word for “sea”), so did He sum all graces and gave them to Mary.” Hence, as the Sea is boundless, so are graces given to Mary boundless. This is why Mary is called “Stella Maris” (Star of the Sea), and also why she is designed with blue coloured dresses to stress the “sea-grace” relationship.
- St Antoninus also acknowledges that “Mary predicted that all generations shall call her Blessed because she knew she is full of Grace.” Here, the Saint makes us to understand that the Hail Mary (Ave Maria) gave birth to the Magnificat, and that the latter is the consequent of the former.
- St Theodotus of Ancyra exclaims that we must recognize Mary as Mother of God. Thus, anyone who disputes this is at loggerheads with the Blessed Trinity.
- St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori adds that “Whoever desires the fruit must go to the tree. Whoever desires Jesus must go to Mary. And whoever that finds Mary must certainly find Jesus.
- St Louis Marie de Montfort admits that if the consequence of the Good News the Angel gave to Mary inspired her to say praise God in Elizabeth’s House, then it shows that Mary rewards every Hail Mary with one Magnificat. Therefore, when one says five decades of the Rosary (which has Hail Mary’s) to honour Mary, Mary in turn sings 5 decades of Magnificat for such a soul.
Several titles have been accorded to Mary by Saints because of her highest dignity as Mother of God.
- St Hyppolyte of Rome calls her “Deipara” (Bringer-forth of God);
- St Augustine of Hippo salutes her as “Mould of God” for her womb bore Jesus in the human flesh;
- St Peter Damian, in the Little Office refers to her as “Deity’s Shrine”, “Portal of God” as well as “Gideon’s fleece”, “Eastern Gate”, “Samson’s Sweet honeycomb”, “Ark of Life”, and “City of Refuge”;
- Venerable Mary of Agreda greets her as Mystical City of God;
- Fulton Sheen hails her as “Ciborium of the Lamb of God” and “First Monstrance of Jesus”;
- St Louis de Montfort labels her as the “Terrestrial Paradise of the New Adam” and “Tabernacle of the Most High”;
- St Justin the Martyr speaks of her as “Vergine par antonomasia” (Virgin by birth). Hence, she is the Mouthpiece of God;
- St Epiphanius of Salamis speaks of her in Greek as a Virgin “Kata Panta kecharitomene” (endowed accordingly with every fullness of Grace);
- Blessed Isaac of Stella qualifies her as “Prototype of the Church” for carrying Jesus in the womb, as the Church He founded afterwards contains Him in the Sacraments.
- St Irenaeus of Lyons compares Mary and the ancient Eve and called her “the New Eve” as one through her cooperation, God introduces the Jesus the author of our salvation, against the ancient Eve, through whom by Satanic insinuation, cooperated with Adam in bringing damnation. Hence, in this regards, she is “the ancient woman” for in the fall of Adam and Eve, God prepared the Redemption through Jesus and Mary.
Our Attitude Towards Mary
True devotion to Mary has a logic behind it. This logic is because she is Mother of God. It makes her enjoy the privilege of devotion called “Hyperdulia” (a higher form of veneration above Angels and Saints) because as St Alphonsus Liguori teaches, while collectively Angels and Saints pray as Servants of God, Mary alone prays as Mother of God. Jesus who was born is God, Mary who gave birth to Him is the Mother of God. It is because She is God’s Mother, that the same God has also added all other privileges to be enjoyed by Her. This means that what Jesus is by nature, Mary is by grace, yet they were conferred on her by God – Jesus was born by Virginal conception, Mary was born by Immaculate Conception; He is Lamb of God, She is the fair ewe in the words of Merlito of Sardis; He is the Sacred Heart, She is the Immaculate Heart, He is the New Adam, She is the new Eve, as Adam and Eve stand beneath the Tree in the Garden of Eden, so do Jesus and Mary cooperate on the Tree of the Cross; He underwent Passion and was crucified, She underwent sorrows and her heart was pierced; He Ascended into Heaven, She was assumed into Heaven; He reigns in Glory as King, She reigns as Queen; as He is the Head of the Church, she is the neck of the Church. Thus, as He is God, She is Mother of God.
Secondly, our devotion to Mary is required because just as she is ranked first in Heaven above the Angels who delight in beholding her radiant beauty in the words of Solomon as a woman that comes forth as morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun and terrible as an army set in battle array [see Songs 6:10], in the same way, she is ranked above all humans of whom all generations will call her blessed [see Luke 1:48]. Therefore, it is fitting that She shall be called blessed in all ages because since God is present in all ages, Mary as well, for all ages remain the Mother of God.
Various Ways of Practising Devotion to Mary
The thought provoking question usually asked is: “How should we practice true devotion to Mary?” Among the several ways are that:
- By prayers to her. Simply put, by praying to God through her. This involves saying with faith any prayer that is pleasing to her, and such prayers include approved prayers by the Church such as the Rosary, Angelus, Regina Caeli, Hail Mary, Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, We fly to Your Patronage. Prayers to Mary include ejaculatory and short prayers, especially as it arises from our heart privately. It requires confidence in her maternal assistance. Prayers should be accompanied with intention of saying them such as making reparation to the Immaculate Heart for one’s sins and those of the whole world, asking for favours etc.
- Observing and participating in devotions such as family, groups or societies, May and October devotions etc, First Saturday devotion etc. Such helps to edify one’s spirit when prayed together.
- Singing of Marian hymns, Scapular devotions to honour the Blessed Mother.
- Encouraging others about the importance of being devoted to Our Lady. One of the best ways to do this is by narrating testimonies of her intercessions, giving Rosary gifts or other gifts about Her to others. We should bear in mind too that Our Lady made 15 Promises to those who say and promote the Rosary devotion. Telling people about these Promises is a good way of making Mary known. Legionaries of Mary have a good tradition of doing this through active legion work done every week. This pleases Our Lady so much.
- Most importantly is making efforts to imitate the virtues of Our Lady and reading spiritual books that teach about her so as to learn more on how to be like her. It was for this reason that St Augustine says that blessed is s/he who imitates the saints, for when the saints see them imitate their virtues, they are more inclined to pray for them.
Conclusively, St Alphonsus Liguori summarizes what Marian devotion entails by saying that “True devotion to Mary consists in three things: confidence, veneration and love.” Truly, there is no servant of Mary that will ever go to Hell. Even if a devotee struggles with sin yet makes efforts to be devoted to her, she exercises her office as “Refuge of sinners.” Even if her devotee is afraid at the agony of death, she demonstrates her power as “Comforter of the afflicted” who prays for us sinners “now and at the hour of our death.” Even if her devotee faces disappointments of life, she is there as “Mother of Perpetual Help” and “Undoer of knots.”
The devils know these, and they fear Mary because she is “Terror of demons.” All is needed is perseverance in following Mary. No one who truly loves Mary will ever miss Heaven, no matter how hard it is. She also extends her assistance after death if one is in Purgatory. So, let us not fail to pray for departed souls. Our Lady loves them so much. As St Peter Damian teaches, she obtains the release of abundant number of souls in Purgatory on the Solemnity of her Assumption (August 15) because of the memory of her entry into Heaven. Mary herself desires more to see us in Heaven more than we desire. Thus, as her refrain says in the Perpetual Help devotion: “Mary has helped us. Mary wants to help us. Mary can help us. Mary will help us.” O Mary Mother of God, pray for us and help us!